tagNovels and NovellasThe Harem Ch. 05

The Harem Ch. 05


"You fool! Have you no idea of the honor and privilege bestowed upon you?" Cyrenia's words were sharp and hurried, at odds with her patient movements. Setting the teapot down, she raised her cup, taking a deep breath of jasmine. Across from her, Magdalyn raised her own cup, a scowl marring her perfect features.

"So I have been told by many. And I will tell you, for my people it is no honor or privilege. It is harlotry, and nothing more." Magdalyn burned her tongue on the tea, impatiently sipping. "Send me back to the kitchens. I will earn my way there."

"And who has put such thoughts in your head? No doubt that harpy Helenia." When Magdalyn made no response, Cyrenia nodded her head. "As I thought. For one so smart and unwilling to be led, you were led so easily by one with the intelligence of an oxen."

Magdalyn choked on her tea, sputtering inelegantly. Cyrenia sat her cup down with a snap, calling for Ikthyer. The head eunuch appeared instantly, not attempting to hide the fact that he had been listening outside the door. Bowing, he said, "Yes, my lady?"

"Tell Magdalyn what you have told me." Standing and stamping her foot impatiently at the eunuch's hesitance, she said again, "Tell Magdalyn what you have told me."

Inclining his head, he addressed his words to the silent young woman in white. "The High Lord intends you for his Lady. He does not yet know it fully himself, but that is the direction that his intentions and actions lie in."

"And you would have me be the wife of a man who sleeps with other women?" Magdalyn took another sip of her tea before setting her cup down. Rising, she paced the area behind her chair impatiently. "I will take no man to wed who will not be faithful to me. Do not ask the impossible of me."

"As the High Lady, you would have control over the harem. Including its occupants." Ikthyer spoke slowly, watching Magdalyn's expressive face. "One could see to it that there were no women that would tempt the High Lord, if one were so inclined."

Halting her movements, Magdalyn turned to face the eunuch. Taking his measure, she directed her question towards Cyrenia. "Is what he says true? I could do these things?"

"You could. With our help, and that of Kallisana." Cyrenia sat once more, taking her cup of tea up once more. "You will have to work hard. Culture, music, language--the High Lady must know all these things, in addition to being able to hold the High Lord's attention in other areas."

"And you will help me." Having no doubts, Magdalyn shook her head in wonder. "Why would you help someone like me, and not one of the others?"

"Because you are more complex than the others." Ikthyer sat down, folding his hands in his lap as he spoke. "You will know how to balance the many things necessary for such a position, and not let power go to your head. The only thing more dangerous than a power-hungry man is a power-hungry woman."

"Despite the insult, he speaks the truth. You will do great things, and support the High Lord in his endeavors. None of the other three would do so." Cyrenia drained her cup, her nerves calm again. Setting the cup down, she pierced Magdalyn with a questing stare. "What say you, little virgin?"

Magdalyn sipped her tea, letting her thoughts swirl in her head. The more they spoke, the more she believed them. She had let the viper poison her mind; now she must undo the damage. As smart as she was, she knew that her repeated demands to be sent to another part of the estate would go unmet. She could either continue to make the situation worse, or she could embrace what was in essence her new life.

"What is his name? His given name. I cannot think of marriage to a man whose name I do not know."

Both Ikthyer and Cyrenia smiled. Pouring herself another cup of tea, Cyrenia answered, "His name is Nictolanus."

Nodding, Magdalyn set her cup down. "Nictolanus. Where do we start?"

* * * * *

"So the little virgin is still here. I would have thought you would have been sent back to the kitchens, or better yet, sold to a trader." Helenia brushed her fingertips over the surface of the fountain, her eyes glittering with malice as they landed on Magdalyn. Instead of scurrying off, as Analyndia or even Tansazia would have done when faced with the rough edge of her tongue, Magdalyn stared back with cool violet eyes.

"I am still here. And so I shall remain. You would be of better interest to find something to do with you idle mind besides bother people with your small thoughts."

Helenia stared back for a moment before bursting into laughter. The light sound echoed off the high garden walls, bouncing back at the women. Drawing a breath, she said, "So brave. Brave enough to defy the High Lord and live to tell of it. He was none too pleased at your show of spirit. He nigh near battered me to death after he left you."

Running her fingers over a blue blossom--bluebell, she remembered--Magdalyn smiled at the older woman sunnily. "If all you could offer him was what he has already had, it is understandable that he would need batter you so fiercely to meet his own needs."

Eyes flashing, Helenia stepped forward, slapping Magdalyn sharply across the cheek. Seconds later, she gasped and clutched her own cheek, bright red and stinging. Magdalyn's breath heaved in and out of her lungs, but her face was calm.

"If you hurt me, I will hurt you." Turning, she left the garden. Only when she was out of sight did she finger her burning cheek. A cool compress would take the redness away.

Behind her, Helenia seethed quietly. So the little bitch thought she would win this war. They would see.

* * * * *

Nictolanus strode into his library, drawing off his gloves and tossing them on the heavy oak desk. A week hunting had done both him and the village good--there would be no need for hunting parties for some time. A noise behind him had him spinning on his heels, his hand going to the blade at his hip.

Magdalyn shifted again in the chair next to the fire, sighing once before her breathing settled again. A book hung limply from her hand, evidence of her activity before sleep had overtaken her. The robe he recognized as one of his own; it swamped her small figure, the folds falling to the floor.

Crossing the room, he took the book and laid it gently on the table, taking care to mark the spot she had left off at. Lifting her up, he found that she weighed little more than a feather, no burden at all despite the climb up two flights of stairs. The bed in his chamber was already turned down, and he laid her gently on it. Taking the time to strip out of his travel clothes, he sank into the tub of water sat before the fire.

Throughout his bath, he kept an eye on the sleeping figure. She made no movements, but slept steadily on, through his bath, and the entrance and exit of the servants who came to remove the bath. Climbing into the bed with her, he drew the covers up over them both, wrapping an arm around her waist and drawing her up against him. Sighing deeply, he let sleep take him over.

For the first time in many years, he slept without nightmares.

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